The Salina Journal Wednesday, May 17,1995 A9 For Russell Stover, perfection is norm, not goal Hand-packed product will roll off the line By GORDON D. FIEDLER JR. Th* Salina Journal The cover story in a recent issue of Candy Industry magazine redundantly referred to Russell Stover Candies as a "paragon of excellence." • The repetition may have been justified considering the Kansas City, Mo.-based company's long-held position as the industry leader among box chocolate makers. Its manufacturing process at times emphasizes quality over economy, such as its practice of hand-dipping some of its candy and packing all of ( its boxed candy by hand, a labor-intensive endeavor that requires up to 25 people on one packing line. The company, which conducted a grand opening Friday for its newest plant, a $35 million facility in Abilene, does other things that set it apart from its competitors. For instance, the fictional Mrs. Gump might have had Russell Stover in mind when she passed on her famous milk- chocolate maxim. Russell Stover does not include a "map" in its boxes of assorted chocolates, so unless you eat a lot of Russell Stover candy, you may indeed never know, as in life, what you'll get. Other makers of assorted chocolates, such as Whitman Sampler, which Russell Stover recently acquired, have a directory, but the absence of a table of contents in Russell Stover's boxed products is not a cost-saving measure. Russell Stover candy boxes are map- less simply by tradition, said Mark Frame, director of marking and new product development for Russell Stover. "It's a trademark for Whitman to have it and for Russell Stover not to have it," Frame said. But Russell Stover connoisseurs don't need help finding their favorites. They already know what Frame knows: "The round ones are always creams and soft centers and the rectangular ones are chewy," he said. Lourie Zipf/Salina Journal Shirley Howard, assistant manager of the Russell Stover Retail Store, stacks boxes of Clara Stover assorted chocolates on the store shelves recently. The store is attached to the new manufacturing plant. Ah, but how to distinguish between, say, a coconut cream and an orange cream? Once again, professional Russell Stover consumers examine the curls on the tops of the chocolates. "True Russell Stover lovers know what the caramel is just by looking," Frame said. In the beginning There is a lot more to Russell Stover chocolates than the telltale curl. Besides looking perfect, they must taste perfect, and that starts with quality ingredients. Lots of ingredients. When the Abilene plant is at full production, employing 400 people, the plant will consume weekly 12,000 to 15,000 pounds of sugar, 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of syrup and 75,000 pounds of chocolate. Yearly, the plant's chocolate appetite alone will exceed 1.6 million pounds. Each day, two production shifts will turn out an average of 100,000 pounds of candy. Every piece of candy produced at Abilene will have a taste of Kansas. "We try to buy as much as we can locally," said purchasing supervisor Rosalyn Burke. For instance, the company is buying its cream from Wichita and its milk from Sabetha. Although it buys in bulk, its candy is mixed in approximately 100-pound batches — small by industrial standards. "It's certainly not a cement mixer full," said Deborah Wilson, personal manager of the Abilene plant. Depending on the candy being made, the production line might require 10 separate batches a day. Once the raw ingredients are mixed, cooked or otherwise prepared, it takes more than activating millions of dollars worth of machinery to turn out candy good enough to fill a Russell Stover box. Workers must practice for weeks. Every morsel has to look just so. The sides of the chocolate-covered candy must meet the bottoms with military sharpness. A piece of candy whose coating has spread out, making its cross section resemble the base of a Roman numeral "I", is said to have "feet." This is bad. Russell Stover candy must be appendage free. "Leakers" also don't pass muster. The Abilene workers have been toiling for several weeks turning out feetless, leakless candy, while employees at the other end of the line learn the dexterous art of hand-packing chocolate boxes. "Russell Stover is one of the few candies that still come in paper cups," Wilson said. The cups are made at the plant, sent to the packing area where 25 workers on each line fill them with chocolate, one at a time, and placed in the boxes that travel along an angled conveyor. When loading assorted boxes, each packer is responsible for one, maybe two, kinds of chocolate, which go in a specific locations in the box. "The hardest job is the person who packs that last piece," Wilson said. A week ago, packers were loading 15 boxes a minute. The target is 35 to 40 a minute. For this job, the company looks for people with fine motor skills. "Not everyone can do it," Wilson said. The job is repetitive, and to prevent repetitive motion injuries, the company had engineered forced shutdowns in the production line so workers can rest and exercise their fingers and hands. Eventually the Abilene plant will produce every line of Russell Stover candy except molded pieces, such as Easter rabbits, and marshmallow-filled products. Those two will be made at the lola plant. The finished chocolate is quick-frozen and shipped by refrigerated trucks to warehouses for distribution to all states east of the Rockies. In time, the retail store adjoining the plant will stock chocolate made next door. ^FROM PAGE A1 Russell Stover uses the personal touch "Russell Stover is among the elite," said Lizabeth Echeandia, publisher of Confectioner Magazine. "There are a lot of other companies, but (Russell Stover has) the largest share of the industry. There isn't anybody in boxed chocolate that's sort of close," she said. From Clara's Kitchen For the cynical reader, there really was a Russell Stover, who with his wife, Clara, started the company in 1923 in the kitchen of their Denver bungalow. Originally marketed as Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies, the name was changed about 20 years later to Russell Stover Candies. The business was acquired by the Louis Ward family in 1960, when the company had 35 of its own stores and was in about 2,000 other establishments. The company is still in the Ward family and is run by Louis Ward's sons Tom and Scott. Both were on hand Friday during the grand opening of its Abilene plant, which will be the company's largest, producing about a quarter of the company's 80 million pounds of candy yearly. The company could only dream of this level of production in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when, between 1979 and 1981, its annual production actually fell from 47 million pounds to 32 million pounds. Getting in more mouths Tom Ward said the recession and price rises in answer to increased commodity costs kept the company's products on the shelves. "In the 1970s we kepi increasing our prices," Tom Ward said. "We decided that wasn't the right thing to do." Since then the company has focused on keeping its prices low and expanding its distribution. "We're concerned with what is a reasonable amount a person will spend. We try to sell products to as many people as possible," he said. "Instead of getting price growth we went for volume growth." Today, besides the factories and distribution centers, the company operates 46 retail outlets and has its products in 700 department stores, 10,000 mass retailers and 18,000 drug stores and card shops. Russell Stover has stores in Canada and plans to expand to Australia. The Abilene plant is the company's fifth candy plant. Others are in Clarksville, Va.; Cookeville, Tenn.; Marion, S.C.; and Montrose, Colo. The company recently broke ground on its sixth plant, in lola, and will start construction on its seventh, in Corsicana, Texas, this summer. These plants supply distribution warehouses in Woodland, Calif.; Wildwood, Fla.; Brownstown, Ind.; Somersworth, N.H.; Allentown, Penn.; Carmel Church, Va.; Aurora, Colo.; Butler, Mo.; Terrell,. Texas; and at its candy factories at Marion, S.C.; Clarksville, Va.; Cookeville, Tenn.; and Montrose, Colo. The company employs more than 4,000 people. Being privately held, it declined to reveal financial information; however, Forbes magazine ranked it 400th among the 500 largest private U.S. companies, with annual earnings estimated at $41 million on estimated sales of $450 million. Confectioner Magazine put its annual revenues even higher, between $550 million and $600 mil- lion. Russell Stover has visions of Asia and Europe dancing in its head, but the company has no immediate plans to invade those overseas markets. Chocolate lovers abound There is still enough chocolate lovers to go after in this country, said Mark Frame, director of marketing and product development for Russell Stover. "There is a lot of business for us to get," he said. "You can go into every single grocery store and convenience store and buy a Snickers. Russell Stover is in only 14 percent of grocery stores across the U.S.," he said. In contrast, the company has products in about 90 percent of the chain and independent drug stores and department stores. Its top seller is the 1-pound box of assorted chocolates, but because its products are so varied and popular, its leading seller accounts for only 6.8 percent of total sales, Frame said. Contrast that with the Whitman's Sampler line, where the 1- pound box accounts for 85 percent of Whitman sales. There was a time when box chocolate companies such as Russell Stover didn't go head to head with "singles" manufacturers such as Hershey and Mars, and the singles companies stayed out of the boxed chocolate business. The industry now is not as segregated. "Our Pecan Delight is the number three (candy) bar in the U.S.," Frame said. Thinking small The company credits its success to its method of production. Candy is made in small batches using some of Clara Stover's original recipes. Many products are still hand-dipped. All of the company's boxed chocolates, whether hand-dipped in chocolate or "enrobed" by a machine, are packed by hand. The hands doing the packing belong to residents of relatively small towns. "We think we can bring a lot more to small communities," Frame said. "We find that folks like to have new companies come to their community who offer good, solid jobs and who will be there for a long time." The plant in Montrose, Colo., population 11,000, is about 23' years old and employs between- 700 and 800 workers in three shifts'.' It's a large plant that serves all' the U.S. markets west of the Rock- ies. Filled chocolate candy manufactured east of the mountains can't be shipped west because the" changing air pressure causes them to explode. Since it started production, the' Montrose plant employment has been cyclical, said Ken Gale, ex-' ecutive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce. Still, he said, "they've been an outstanding corporate citizenl ; They employ a lot of women, A segment of the community that really helps." Russell Stover is the largest in : dustrial employer in Montrose,' and the fourth largest in Cookeville, Tenn., where its plant started production in 1982 and em-' ploys 700. A Cookeville economic ; development official said the em : ployment has fluctuated but has been stable for several years. Frame said the company avoids metropolitan areas because of the general lack of work ethic. "We've just had success picking communities such as Abilene," he; said. ^FROM PAGE A1 Abilene expects to continue growth spurt ment in property taxes, a loss to the city of about $4 million over 10 years. The city expects to more than recover the lost taxes in the economic effect of the new jobs. Jackson said the company's starting hourly wages will range from $6 for unskilled laborers to $11 for skilled workers. After a year, he said, the hourly wage range will be $7.18 to $13. Abilene's newest industrial resident is expected to continue the growth spurt the city's experiencing, especially in the real estate market. In the past 10 years, the city saw two or three new housing developments built. "Last year, we platted four new residential subdivisions," Jackson said. Eastern sites pick up most of state historic grants By Th» Associated Press HUTCHINSON — Thirteen of 14 historic sites picked recently to receive state grant money are in the eastern Kansas. That statistic doesn't sit well with one member of the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review. "If you look at the map, it's pathetic," said Herchel Crainer, a Hutchinson insurance agent and one of two people on the 11-member board from western or central Kansas. The board on Saturday named 14 places that will receive a share I of $500,000 as the 1995 recipients of ] the state Heritage Trust Funds. For years, some western iKansans have contended that more money and resources are allocated to eastern Kansas, generally east of U.S. 81, where there I are more urban locations. Courtney Swann, preservation I architect who handles the Historic I Preservation Trust Funds for the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office, said deciding who would get the money this year was neither political nor an east-west issue. "If you look at the number of properties listed all across the state, you will notice the majority of properties listed are in the eastern and central part of the state," Swann said. "The western part is filled with archaeological sites. It's a matter of that's how the state progressed with building." There were 45 nominations for the grants. The only winner west of U.S. 81 was the Old Run- neymede Church in Harper, which received $55,460. tH[ A I W • L S For MOVIE Selections and SHOWTIMES Call 825-9105 The MotorolaTransportable. Only $69 while supplies last. . Or start your service for free! The Motorola Transportable cellular phone is perfect for business, safety and your personal life. And right now, you can get the Transportable for only $69. 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